with equal parts compassion & hilarity

Not so obvious beauty

Her face was redder than mine. More wrinkly too. She was older, that’s why. I probably noticed it only because in recent months I’ve been watching the divets in my forehead become steadily more defined. I’m still young (and so is she), but when I raise my eyebrows or laugh big, the wrinkles eke out of my face in spite of the thick layers of sunscreen I apply in the summertime.

Her face was splotchy, cherry red, vibrant against her white-blonde hair. I watched her shuffle along, slow and I imagine with great pain. She cut onto the grass to weave her way around a woman at full-term pregnancy walking with her husband. As we neared one another, I felt a kinship with her. Two red-faced runners enduring sunny & 75-degree weather. It was perfect weather if only you weren’t running four miles. 

We lifted our eyes at the same time to exchange a knowing look. A small smile, a brief flick of our left wrists. We were too exhausted to comment on the weather or the fact that we were both suffering in a way some might consider needless. Instead, we each breathed out a raspy Hi. I felt the empathy coming from her sweaty half of the sidewalk and I hoped she felt mine as well. We red-faced runners have to stick together. Although we’re outside counting down the miles voluntarily, it’s still hard and we could still stand to be encouraged. After that fleeting instant, we continued on our way. 

That moment was beautiful, but a more obscure and less obvious type of beautiful. It wasn’t surrounded by jubilance and celebration. Rather, it was encompassed by sweat, curse-words murmured under our breaths (or, maybe just under my breath!), and sore muscles. I’ve been trying to look for beauty that isn’t obvious because John O’Donahue mentioned that beauty doesn’t need to be only lovely things that make you feel good. Beauty is bigger than that. It can also be found in things that cause pain or are painful. For instance, beauty can be found and experienced in overwhelming grief or physical pain. I can’t say that I’ve ever personally experienced the type of grief that unearths you or makes you cry so much that you run out of tears. I’m sure it’s coming though—isn’t grief simply a fact of life? 

Until then, I’ve found myself wondering about the connection between beauty and grief and between beauty and pain. I wonder if beauty is partially defined by how raw the emotion is and if you can know a thing is beauty by the degree to which you experience it. The purer and more honest the felt emotion is perhaps an indication of the hue of beauty. But then there’s red hot anger and I’ve felt that before. I hesitate to call anger beautiful. Is anger a base level emotion? Or, is there something even deeper? Yes, probably, I don’t know. It depends, I suppose.

Finally, if beauty can be experienced in the midst of grief and in the midst of sincere joy and gladness, we are encouraged to not numb one lest we risk numbing the other. That is an element of emotional maturity—being unafraid of vulnerability, taking personal responsibility, showing empathy, setting boundaries, and the like.

It’s appealing to numb grief or physical pain or any other not so fun emotion. I love my comfort just as much as the next person, but in numbing grief and physical pain, we stand to numb joy. What a tragedy that would be. I know I’m young still and my forehead wrinkles are still being solidified, but I’m convinced that we must make peace with beauty in all its forms, in all the ways it presents. Joy and grief. Because they both host beauty and they’re both valuable in their own right.

Header image courtesy of Unsplash.

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